By Lotte Pegler
One of the most loved venues in Bognor Regis is preparing to celebrate four decades of entertaining the town.
The Regis Centre in Belmont Street has been a hub for the community for many years and has seen many changes over that time.
With a team mainly made up of volunteers, many residents of Bognor Regis have developed a love for the venue and the events it hosts in its meeting rooms and the Alexandra Theatre.
“There’s a spirit here because of the people who do some in and give up their time to volunteer and help out,” said the theatre’s manager, Hazel Latus.
“Everyone in the team brings something they all bring their own personalities and characters that people love. It’s addictive, I thought I would come for a few months and I’m still here six years later!
“I want to leave a legacy here so future managers and lovers of the theatre can continue to grow it.”
A celebration event has been lined up for May 2 with local performers.
Hazel has worked as part of the Regis Centre team for six years now, and has always worked in the entertainment business, previously up in London.
“My husband worked with the BBC for many years and when he retired we came down here to live.
“One day we had to divert from Selsey, came through the town and ended up buying a house here and we loved it.
“A long standing producer friend of mine asked if I could help out, at the time I didn’t even know there was a theatre here. I came to do something for him and ended up as a volunteer here one the theatre set.
“Then one day I was asked to come to the trustees meeting to see if I would be suitable to join the trustees. I’m still the chairman to this day.
“The place wouldn’t survive without the volunteers. It’s a very community based organisation. We have helped out youngsters who have gone on to work in bigger companies.
“It gives them a good start but also having them here, growing and their experience is great. Also, they all come back in the end, either just to pop in or to do a show or two.
“That’s great for us too as it shows other people who we are, something that is crucial for us in order for us to grow and continue to be open.
“We would really loved to get bigger of course, it would definitely be something that would work to our benefit, but it’s a tricky thing to happen. At the moment we are focusing on making the most of the space we’ve got.
“Our studios are constantly booked up and we’re already having people make bookings for 2022.
“It’s amazing to see how great it’s going. We’re working on improving our cafe and getting more activities and events out in the entrance area.”
One of the theatre’s devout volunteers, ex-mayor Pat Dillon, was at the Regis Centre on Wednesday helping out with their latest dance event.
“I have been here for more than 16 years now,” he said. “It’s changed a lot over the years and it’s just got better and better as we’ve gone on.
“We’ve been ploughing all the money we get back into the building and we’re trying to improve it all the time. It’s an ugly building on the outside, but it’s got a heart of gold inside.
“This is somewhere people can come and meet up and enjoy the events. People love coming for the people who here as well! The volunteers are always kind and fun, we never turn anyone away unless they’re being trouble!
“Some groups can’t afford to pay the costs to hire parts out but we let them have it anyway! I’m an ex-councillor and and ex-mayor and I love to help the community.
“Hazel has a heart of gold. People come to me with a problem and I take it to her and we get it sorted.
“I didn’t know what had happened until I came here, but when I did the building was closed down. A group of us got together and we got it opened up again.
“Providing that we get the volunteers and the trustees treat the volunteers with respect and appreciate what they do, I think the centre will live a long life and continue to grow and flourish.
Town mayor, cllr Phil Woodall, often shows his support for the venue, most recently at their new community event, the 2 O’Clock Club. He said: “ The Regis Centre has been a hub of entertainment in the town for 40 years which is amazing.
“The venue attracts some fantastic performers and shows there are always well attended. I would like to congratulate everyone involved in keeping the Regis Centre at the heart of this community.”